Review: God in Eternity and Time

God in Eternity and Time, Robert E. Picirilli. Nashville: B & H Acacdemic, 2022.

Summary: A case for libertarian freedom without forgoing belief in the foreknowledge of God, rooted in how God acts and reveals himself in creation.

One of the ongoing challenges in theology is that what we believe of God’s eternal character, that God is immutable and omniscient, and how we see God’s working in creation, in space and time, seem often at odds with each other. Even the very act of creation reflects a change. And God continues to work in creation, often in interaction with human beings, even in response to human prayers and actions. And then there is the question of human freedom. If God foreknows all things, can humans truly be said to act in freedom. Or is this only apparent and our “choices” are determined? Or, as those who hold to open theism, is God’s foreknowledge limited in some way.

Robert Picirilli takes on these issues in this book. He argues that the “eternal” qualities of God ought be understood in light of what is revealed to us in scripture of God’s acts in time and space in the creation. He argues that what we learn of God’s acts and character in history ought shape our ideas of the eternal God rather than the other way around. All we have with clarity is how God has interacted with us in the creation.

This leads Picirilli to take seriously anthropomorphisms like God’s “eyes,” “ears,” and “hands.” This is not in the sense of corporeality, but in the sense that God sees, hears, and acts and we should not reduce these truths to metaphysical abstractions. Likewise, he treats foreknowledge not simply from an eternal perspective, determining events, but rather through God’s participation in the space/time world. He writes, “What God knows eternally, and exhaustively, about the course of events in this world he knows from the course of events in this world–not vice versa.”

Thus, he argues that we may affirm both God’s unchanging character and foreknowledge and God’s actions in the world and libertarian human freedom. His contention, as evident in the title is that we must always do our theology at the intersection of eternity and time, with what we see from scripture about God’s decisions and acts in time shaping our understanding of the eternal God.

Picirilli engages other formulations with chapter length critiques: Paul Helm’s argument from foreknowledge against human freedom, the open theism of Clark Pinnock and others, and the Molinist ideas of middle knowledge espoused by William Lane Craig.

What I appreciate about the approach of Picirilli is that rather than beginning with metaphysical arguments, he begins with God’s disclosures of God’s self in scripture, and particularly the human encounter with God in the space/time context of creation. I did find myself wondering about the ways God either discloses himself or is revealed by inspired writers that are eternal. He avoids discussion of predestination, including in a discussion of Ephesians 1:3-7 (p. 130). It seems to me easier to argue how foreknowledge and libertarian freedom may stand alongside each other. The case for predestination and libertarian freedom seems more challenging. I think Picirilli’s approach of what is revealed in space and time points the way, in which people respond in faith, choosing the Lord over all others, only to discover their chosenness and belovedness by God “before the creation of the world.” It can be argued that predestination and freely choosing Christ also come together at this intersection of eternity and time.

This is a careful, well-argued, and concise book that sets forth a case, engages alternatives, returning again and again to scripture from Genesis 1 to Exodus to the Gospels to make its case. It avoids speculation and builds around what God has made known.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Calvinism for a Secular Age

Calvinism for a Secular Age, Jessica R. Joustra and Robert J. Joustra, eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022.

Summary: A collection of contributions considering Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures of 1898 at Princeton and both their flaws and relevance for our contemporary context.

In 1898, Reformed theologian, public scholar and politician Abraham Kuyper was asked to give the Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary, the beginning of an American tour. In six lectures, Kuyper set forth a summary of his formulation of Reformed thought, often referred to as neo-Calvinism, with the hope of breathing fresh life into Reformed thinking in American circles. In the process, he asserted the sovereignty of God in every sphere of life, introducing the concept of “sphere sovereignty” into the Reformed lexicon.

Most lecture series of this sort survive only in library or online archives. This is one of the great exceptions. Since 1931, Lectures on Calvinism has been continuously published by Eerdmans. It represents the most accessible English summary of Kuyper’s thought, indeed until recently, one of the only readily available works of Kuyper available in English. It has inspired Christian thinking about the relevance of Christian faith in every aspect of life, including science, the arts, and political life. And it has been the source of angst in an age affirming racial equality for its deprecatory remarks about racial groups other than white Europeans, and sadly used to support apartheid and other racist practices.

This volume is an effort of a number of Kuyper scholars to assess the relevance of Kuyper in our present time, engaging both the positive contributions and criticisms of his work. The contributions are organized around the six lectures plus two essays on Kuyper and race, and the translation work involved in the English text of the lectures. Each of the lecture essays are organized around what Kuyper said, what Kuyperians did, and what we should do. After the introduction by Robert J. Joustra, covering some of the material above, the essays in this book include:

Kuyper and Life-Systems, Richard J. Mouw. Mouw discusses Kuyper’s presentation of Calvinism as a “life system” centering on how we relate to God, to our fellow humans, and the larger world in which we find ourselves. He discusses the ways the Reformed community appropriated these ideas in academic institutions. He also addresses the idea of “worldview” and advocates active “worldviewing” rather than the static notion of having a worldview.

Kuyper and Religion, James Eglinton. The essay is organized around four questions Kuyper addressed in his second lecture: 1) Who is religion about? 2) Must all people be religious? 3) Is religion only about matters of the heart, or morals? 4) Can religion be a positive force for good in the world? He notes the distinctive answers Calvinism offers for these questions, the challenge of Calvinists to move beyond separatism and division, and the sadly irreligious character of most contemporary evangelicals.

Kuyper and Politics, Jonathan Chaplin. Kuyper’s ideas of constitutional pluralism are discussed and introduces Kuyper’s ideas of sphere sovereignty, differentiating state, society, and the church. This idea argues for generally protecting each of the spheres from intrusion by the other while recognizing the sovereignty of God and the engagement of Christians in all of these. He notes that Kuyper envisioned Christian parity but not privilege in the public square, a plural public square, not a neutral one. He notes the need in our contemporary context for a contextual pluralism that addresses racial and socioeconomic status.

Kuyper and Science, Deborah B. Haarsma. Kuyper addressed both the delightful calling to study God’s handiwork, and the ways in which Christian and atheist-materialist worldviews affect the study of science. Kuyper affirmed the idea of no conflict between faith and science and that the Christian need not set aside one’s faith in the laboratory. Haarsma particularly addresses the efforts of Christians historically to address science and faith, particularly evolution, and the needs at present to take this conversation beyond the Christian college context, to address ethics, and how both Kuyper and contemporary Kuyperians address evolution.

Kuyper and Art, Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin. Kuyper addressed three questions: 1) why was Calvinism not allowed to develop an art style of its own? 2) what implications does the lack of Calvinist art style have for understanding the nature of art? 3) what has Calvinism done in practice for the advancement of art. She focuses on Rookmaaker’s critique of modern art and ideas of beauty and the more positive art and aesthetic of Calvin Seerveld. And she critiques the lack of evidence for Kuyper’s ideas about Dutch painting, the conflict between his ideas about common grace and antithesis, where he opposes Christians and non-believer, and the aesthetic emphasizing beauty.

Kuyper and the Future, Bruce Ashford. Ashford outlines Kuyper’s call to action of a vibrant Calvinism amid the malaise of modernity and the ineffectual engagement of modern Christians. By and large, the cultural conditions and the church’s response have continued to decline. Ashford believes that Kuyper’s Calvinism still offers robust resources, awaiting the awakening and empowering work of God.

Kuyper and Race, Vincent Bacote. After outlining Kuyper’s problematic statements, he discusses three responses that have been made: 1) critique and rejection, 2) critique based in history, particularly Kuyper’s embrace of European race theory, and 3) critiques tied to theological themes, namely common grace allowed for “lower peoples.” Bacote believes that all that can be done is to affirm what is useful in Kuyper’s general thought while facing his failings in this area. He believes a neo-Kuyperian perspectivalism may offer the best approach to the multi-cultural glory of the church from every nation.

Lost in Translation, George Harinck. Kuyper gave his lectures in English. Given his lacks as an English speaker, how did the English manuscript of his lectures get written. Harinck disputes the traditional account of Benjamin Warfield that it was translated by a team who received the manuscript ten days before the lectures.

Jessica R. Joustra concludes the book with reflections on the reception of the lectures then and now, proposing that the vigorous assertion of God’s sovereignty over all of life remains important to the contemporary malaise of the western church but also that this needs to be coupled with piety of Kuyper reflected in his Near Unto God.

I would recommend picking up a copy of Lectures on Calvinism to read with this work. Kuyper offered one of the best articulations of Christian engagement in every aspect of life that is out there, even for his evident faults. It serves as the inspiration for many contemporary Christians who are both thoughtful and active in various spheres, as evident in the bibliographies at the end of each chapter. This work is a helpful companion. Get them both!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview

Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview, Randy S. Woodley. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022.

Summary: A discussion of an indigenous approach to theology that proposes it is closer to both the indigenous traditions and the teaching of Jesus.

Until recent times, not only the history of our relations with indigenous peoples, but also our theology has been written by Euro-Americans. Randy Woodley, as he introduces himself in the beginning of this work is a mixed blood Cherokee who grew up in a Detroit suburb where his father worked in the auto industry. He came to faith in a revival meeting in a Baptist church, delivered of a drug habit. Educated from a Western perspective, he engaged in missions and pastoral work among indigenous peoples, learning their history and spiritual outlook in his efforts to communicate Christ, and became convinced in many respects, that the indigenous worldview, in many respects was closer to the way of Christ than the Western worldview.

In this work, he engages in three conversations, in indigenous fashion, telling stories and answering questions that contrast indigenous theology and the Western worldview. The first discusses the Western, progressive narrative of history versus the high civilizations of indigenous peoples that existed for centuries before they were “discovered,” likening the encounter to the story of the wolves (indigenous peoples) and the terrapin (the discoverers). They failed to understand the covenant Jesus had with all peoples and the strong indigenous sense of relationship between creator, people, and land.

The second conversation contrasts Western dualism and the much more integral understanding where all of life is both physical and spiritual, where the life of a people is integral with the land they inhabit, and one seeks to live in harmony (shalom) with creation. Western thought “othered” indigenous people, marginalizing and killing them. Healing this begins with acknowledgement, recognizing we are latecomers and usurpers, and working together to repair the damage.

The last conversation gestures toward a decolonized, indigenous theology rooted in what he calls the “harmony way”–ten indigenous values held in common by a wide representation of indigenous groups;

  1. Tangible spirituality/our spirituality must be practiced. Respect everyone. Everything is sacred.
  2. Our lives are governed by harmony. Seek harmony.
  3. Community is essential. Increase your friends and family.
  4. Humor is sacred and necessary. Laugh at yourself.
  5. Feeling of cooperation/communality. Everyone gets a say.
  6. Oral communications and traditions. Speak from your heart.
  7. Present and past time orientation. Look forward by looking back.
  8. Open work ethic. Work hard but rest well.
  9. Great hospitality/generosity. Share what you have.
  10. Natural connectedness to all creation. We are all related.

What connects all this to Christianity is the idea of shalom, and the healing of creation in the vulnerable shalom of the cross. Woodley contrasts this with Western ideas of conquest, control and power.

Is this orthodoxy or syncretism? Woodley would contend that this is for indigenous believers to work out among themselves. Others are interlopers who might better listen to the stories and reflect where they are being invited to walk more closely in the way of Jesus rather than in the distortions of the Western worldview. Does that mean Western Christians have nothing to offer? Woodley would affirm that they do, owing his faith at least in part to Western Christians. But he would resist any efforts to control from the outside as opposed to engaging in the way of harmony, where growth comes in community, as we engage from the heart in sharing our stories and listening to those of others.

Other indigenous writers like Robin Wall Kimmerer invite us to listen to indigenous wisdom in books like Braiding Sweetgrass. What Randy Woodley adds to this is the opportunity in listening to indigenous believers, we might not only gain insight in living wisely on the land that was once theirs alone as a gift of the Creator, but may also walk more wisely with the Creator of the land and with one another.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: The Courage to Be

The Courage to Be, Paul Tillich. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952 (Link is to the third edition, published in 2014).

Summary: A philosophical discussion of being or ontology, the crisis of anxiety, and the nature of the courage to be, the affirmation of our being in the face of nonbeing, accepting our acceptance by the God above God despite our unacceptability.

This book has been around all my life (plus a couple years) on certainly on the edge of my awareness. I read, more or less uncomprehendingly (this is a dense read), an excerpt from this in my Intro to Philosophy course. Tillich was one of the giants of Twentieth century theology. In my Jesus Movement evangelical days of the early ’70s, I just dismissed him as one of “those” theological liberals.

Consequently, I ignored him in my reading. Until now. The Courage to Be, based on the Terry Lectures given at Yale in the early 1950’s, strikes me as an attempt to do at Yale something like another Paul did on the Areopagus.

Tillich writes in what has been describe as “The Age of Anxiety,” memorialized in a poem of W. H. Auden by that name. One of the most significant contributions of this book is an analysis of our anxiety, which he describes as coming in three forms: ontological, concerned with death (non-being) and our ultimate fate, spiritual, concerned with despair and loss of meaning, and moral, concerned with guilt and condemnation. The “courage to be” is the honest facing of this anxiety and choosing to affirm one’s being.

He traces the expression of this “courage” in the history of thought, discussing collectivist thought under the head of “courage and participation,” from feudal societies to Nietzsche, Marx, and the rise of communism and fascism. Under the head of “courage and individualization, he looks at the concept of selfhood both in religious contexts and the rise of Romanticism and naturalism, culminating in Existentialism, a radical courage in the face of life without inherent meaning.

The concluding chapter is the most “Christian” as he describes courage as the ultimate faith that accepts our acceptance despite our guilt and unacceptability, finding its source in “the God above God” the ground of our being. Tillich concludes with this italicized peroration:

“The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubts.”

In his analysis of anxiety stemming from the human condition and his historical survey of forms of “the courage to be” in face of the inescapable realities of death, the loss of meaning, and our implicatedness, Tillich names our reality. His framing of justification by faith is an imaginative re-framing of this core Reformation idea that retains the “I-Thou” nature of faith. Yet it is a framing without the central figure of Jesus and the crucial events of cross and resurrection. Jesus only receives two passing references in this work. As such, this work is only prolegomenon, leaving me wondering what follows in Tillich’s thought.

Perhaps that was Tillich’s intent in these lectures and this book, to invite his hearers and readers to ask more about “the God who appears.”

Review: Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty

Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty, Peter Sammons. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2022.

Summary: A carefully and biblically argued defense of the doctrine of reprobation, dealing with a number of misunderstandings of this doctrine.

Reformed theology takes the sovereignty of God as a starting place–God’s authority and power that accomplishes all things in accord with his will, for God’s pleasure. This includes election, the eternal, unconditional choice of all those who will be saved. Many struggle with this, even though most who affirm this also inform the importance of human choice. Far more difficult, and far less discussed in modern circles is the doctrine of reprobation. By this is meant, in the words of the author of this work “the eternal, unconditional decree of God for the non-elect. In this decree, he chooses to exclude the non-elect from his electing purposes of mercy and to hold them to the strict standards of justice to display the glory of his righteous wrath” (p. 47).

Stern stuff indeed. Because of this, it is not believed by many, or taught even by those who believe it. Peter Sammons believes and teaches reprobation as a integral part of Calvinism and mounts a defense of this doctrine in this volume. For Sammons, reprobation properly understood is not hyper-Calvinism but simply Calvinism.

Key to his argument is a careful study of Romans 9, which spans four chapters of this book. He sees it as explaining why not all believe, although humans know who is elect or reprobate, that reprobation is pretemporal and unconditional, it is not based on foreknowledge of actions, God hardens and shows mercy to whom God wishes, yet God’s decrees do not nullify human responsibility.

He goes on to define a number of key terms, parts of election, perhaps the most importance of which is ultimacy. Double ultimacy contends that God directly intervenes in the hearts of both the elect and the non-elect, a position Sammons associates with hyper-Calvinism and argues makes God the author of sin. He argues for single ultimacy, the direct work of God in the elect and the indirect work through secondary causes in the non-elect. He distinguishes predestination from fatalism and Islamic predestination and argues the impossibility of single predestination (election only) as inconsistent with the character of God. He addresses the arguments against reprobation of its unfairness and that it makes God the author of evil.

As noted earlier, Sammons argument for both the justice of God’s decrees of reprobation and the significance of human choices hinges on a careful discussion of causality–of God as primary and ultimate causality but of secondary proximate and efficient causes. As a particular case, he considers the causality of hardening. He concludes the work with a plea to teach this doctrine as one aspect of revealing the “grandeur of our great God.”

I found the logic of the theological argument more persuasive than the discussion of Romans 9. I am not convinced that you can base the election or reprobation of individuals on the basis of Jacob and Esau and God’s choice of the progenitor of the chosen people in a physical sense. The destiny of people groups, Israel and the Gentiles are the concern of Romans 9-11. That said, I will not be the one who will say what God can and cannot do. Nor do I feel the need to be God’s press agent, putting God’s best foot forward, as it were.

I have seen this doctrine caricatured and treated dismissively. It has been poorly articulated. If you care about such things, Sammons offers a careful, detailed argument that deals with objections and other views. This is a substantive work and not a caricature and those who would deny reprobation need to respond to works like this, or those of the great Reformers.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Cross-Shaped Life

The Cross-Shaped Live, Jeff Kennon. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2021.

Summary: A practical exploration of what it means to be made in the image of a God who died on the cross, to have the cross shape and form the way we live.

According to Jeff Kennon, two of my favorite books, The Crucifixion by Fleming Routledge and The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott, are among the very few books written in recent years on the cross. Given that the cross is so central to the Christian life, that observation alone is probably worth a book. What this book is about is what it means to “image” God, referring back to the Genesis 1. Kennon contends that God has shown us in the life of Christ, a life shaped by the cross. In fact, what Kennon proposes, using the language of Michael Gorman, is that we image God as our lives become cruciform, shaped by the cross of Christ.

The first four chapters of the book trace the story arc of scripture in terms of roots, ruin, rescue, and restoration. Roots focuses on humanity’s creation in the image of God. Ruin considers our exchange of living in the image of God for the false lure of becoming God, worshiping either ourselves or other things that become idols. Rescue talks about the God, who in Jesus gets his feet dirty, and endures the scandal of the cross, the great exchange of his life for ours. Restoration goes even deeper into the work of the cross, pointing to the reality that to understand what God is like is to understand that this is a God who empties God’s self and dies and we live like God, like Christ, when we live like that, rather than pretending to be gods. That is restoration.

In the next four chapters, Kennon identifies four qualities of the cruciform life. Humility is realizing that we are enough, that God has made us good, loves us, and we’ve nothing to prove. It’s not that we think less of ourselves but rather not thinking of ourselves any differently than we think of others. Service means life lived for others, just for their sake and not being in control. Obedience is saying “not my will” but devoting oneself to listening to Jesus and then doing what he says, even as he did the Father’s will. Obedience thus takes us into the depths of God’s heart. Sacrifice chooses what is best for another over what is best for ourselves.

Kennon supports each theme in the book from scripture and illustrates the key points in each chapter, both from history and his own life, in a straightforward fashion. He moves between Jürgen Moltmann and David Foster Wallace, between N. T. Wright and Jim Carrey as he draws out for us the story of the cross, and how to allow it to shape our lives.

This is a good book to be reading during Lent. All of us need to be reminded of what it means to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ. It is also a good book to give either the person considering what it means to become a follower of Jesus or someone recently baptized who is just beginning the journey of being formed by Christ. In a church so distracted by the latest cultural crisis or scheme to make us successful, Kennon focuses on the good stuff of what it is like to be formed by the cross of Christ. In doing so, he doesn’t tell us what we want to hear, but what we desperately need. It’s truly the only way we’ll discover who we were meant to be.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Welcome, Holy Spirit

Welcome, Holy Spirit, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: Beginning with the metaphors for the Holy Spirit, articulates a theology of the Holy Spirit that spans theological traditions and invites readers to be receptive to a deeper experience of the Spirit’s work.

When we confess “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” we often have little idea of what we are confessing. Gordon T. Smith thinks there are four important questions to ask about the Holy Spirit: the relation of the Spirit and Jesus, the relation between the Spirit and the created order, the relation between the Spirit and the scriptures, and the relation between the Spirit and the church.

In this work, Smith articulates a theology of the Holy Spirit that seeks to span the major traditions of Christianity in answering these questions. He goes further. He invites us to consider our own tradition, experience, and what it might mean to welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives in a deeper and transforming way.

He begins by reviewing our metaphors for the Holy Spirit as wind or breath, oil or anointing, fire, running water, and hovering dove. He notes that all of these are images of movement and life. The images emphasize the dynamic rather than static character of the Spirit, but do not fully capture the personal character of the Spirit’s being.

He turns to two chapters on the Spirit in specific books of the Bible. He looks at the link between the ascension and Pentecost in Luke and Acts. We often focus on one at the expense of the other and make it all about Jesus but fail to live in the power of the Spirit, or all about the Spirit but leaving Jesus “in the rearview mirror.” He then turns to the gospel of John and exploring the person of Holy Spirit and the Triune God and both the wisdom and heresies of the early church.

He then moves back to creation and the interesting idea of materiality infused with the breath of God and the hope that the one who brought creation to life will also be the one by whom creation is renewed. He concludes the chapter beautifully by inviting those of us who walk in the Spirit to tend the garden. From bringing life to creation, Smith turns to the work of the Spirit in bringing us to new life in Christ and how this might be reflected in our rites of initiation. He notes the two views of the coming of the Holy Spirit as either a two stage process, or integral with new life in Christ. Rather than argue for one or the other, he argues for incorporating rites of Spirit initiation along with water baptism. Along with this, our catechesis ought to prepare new believers for the work of the Triune God in their lives, including continuing receptivity to the Spirit’s indwelling fullness. In an interlude chapter, he warns against idolizing experience rather than the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in the ordinary practices of our lives.

Smith traces this process and the importance of casting vision for growth toward maturity, realizing we are both dependent on the grace of the Spirit to grow and that the ultimate fulfillment of this comes when we meet Christ face to face. We learn step by step to walk in the Spirit and pray in the Spirit, attending to the Spirit’s promptings in our life. This takes us into the question of the Spirit and the Word. He invites us into reading the Spirit-inspired text with both careful study and dependence on the Spirit for illumination, being neither wooden biblicists nor sentimentalists.

Finally he considers the Spirit and the church, both local and global. He articulates a Spirit ecclesiology that emphasizes unity, the ordered expression of the Spirit’s gifts in worship that occurs in song, word, and sacrament. He presses home the work of the Spirit in discerning church governance and that we ought be open to the immediacy of the Spirit’s guidance. He suggests some intriguing ideas of what it means for the Spirit to go before the church in mission and the need to be attentive to the Spirit’s presence in the cultures and even other religions that we engage. While in every situation there will be discontinuity between gospel and culture, we are also wise to look for how the way has been prepared. The Spirit can give discernment, pointing toward Christ, expressing the winsome fruit of his presence, and helping us to “remember the poor.”

As Smith summarizes, all this is a call to both intentionality in understanding the person and work of the Holy Spirit and receptive attentiveness to welcome Him into our lives. This book is a wonderful primer that helps accomplish what it advocates. Smith, as always, writes with clarity and precision and warmth, constantly moving from theological truth to implications for the life of the believer and the church. There is ecumenicity at its best, focusing both on common ground truths we may all embrace, and complementary insights from different traditions, including that of Pentecostalism, and his own tradition in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, reacquainting a new generation with some of the works of A. W. Tozer. In all of this, Smith’s intent would be for us to understand how we may experience the work of the Spirit as we grow in holiness, learn to pray, worship and work with God’s people, and engage in God’s mission. I concluded the book with his prayer, “Welcome, Holy Spirit!”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Doctrine of Scripture

The Doctrine of Scripture, Brad East (Foreword by Katherine Sonderegger). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021.

Summary: A concise exploration of the doctrine of scripture focusing on the church’s joyful and thankful confession, “this is the word of the Lord.”

Brad East begins this work with a striking statement: “The doctrine of Holy Scripture is a matter of joy.” He notes the practice of many churches following the reading of the scriptures to say, “The word of the Lord.” to which the congregation replies, “Thanks be to God!” East, in this work, seeks to outline the doctrine of scripture in a way that is representative of a broad swath of Christianity, working from the Canon of scripture to the Rule of Faith found in the early creeds, and the ecumenical councils.

East outlines his doctrine of scripture under six one-word chapter titles:

Source: East explores what it is we mean that scripture comes from God. He explores whether we can form our understanding of scripture from scripture, who is this God who speaks, and how do we understand the inspiration of human authors, specifically, “that the words they naturally will to write are one and the same as those which God wills them to write,” yet without human writers being mere automatons.

Nature: Of what are we speaking by the terms “Holy Scripture” or “Bible”? East would answer, “each and every instance, past, present, and future, of any or all parts of any and all versions of the texts included in the canon of the church’s Scripture.” This supports the translatability of scripture, its fecundity, apparent before my eyes in the seven English versions in front of me as I write. He discusses matters of bibliolatry, biblicism, and individualized versions of sola scriptura. He likens scripture to the offices of Christ. When it is read, it speaks prophetically, it mediates salvation to the world, and it heralds the king.

Attributes. In this chapter, East develops the apostolic necessity of scripture, given the delay in the return of Christ, the holy sufficiency of scripture to accomplish God’s purpose, the catholic clarity of scripture, that scripture’s meaning is only clearly understood with the church, particularly in light of its creeds (an argument differing from the Reformers), and the one truth of scripture to which it unerringly witnesses, making known all we need for salvation.

Ends. Ultimately, scripture guides the exiled people of God in mission toward the consummation of all things in Christ. He describes four ends within this larger picture in life of believers: befriending Christ: beatitude and conversion; following Christ: instruction and edification; imaging Christ: sanctification and perseverance; and knowing Christ: communion and contemplative delight.

Interpretation: He begins with a kind of glossary of terms used in hermeneutical discussion. A highlight of this chapter is East’s proposal that the center of interpretation ought be the worshipping church of baptized believers expectant to encounter her living Lord in both word and sacrament. Private reading, for East comes secondary to this. Also, he challenges historical-critical readings that attempt to discern authorial intent, particularly because this, through the early centuries of the church was subject to Christological readings, where the words of Moses and the prophets are understood in their fullest meaning through the life and work of Christ, a principle evident in apostolic reading of these texts. He argues that we read scripture as God’s inspired word, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as a product and gift to the church of Jesus Christ, canonically, reading these writings as a collection, and interpreted through and in consonance with the rule of faith.

Authority. Here, East discusses how the divine authority of God is mediated to us through the authority of scriptures through the offices of the church. He notes ten questions the doctrine of biblical authority raises that must be worked out in the church’s practice.

This was not a book of same old, same old verities but a thoughtful framing of the doctrine of scripture that avoids the de-supernaturalizing tendencies of modern scholarship and the extremes of bibliolatry while at the same time upholding the wondrous reality of hearing the Word of the Lord together as the people of God. He avoids dangers of privatized versions of sola scriptura as well as fleshly scholarship that fails to depend on the illuminating work of the Spirit of God. He affirms the primacy of scripture and yet the importance of testing our readings of scripture against the Rule of Faith and the readings of the church over the centuries.

For me, this was doctrine at its best, doctrine that led to doxology as I rejoiced in the God who has spoken and who has provided a record of this witness (the section on the confection reminded me of the work of God in preserving and bringing together the inspired texts that constitute scripture). It reminded me of the great drama we enact each time we gather as scripture is both read and proclaimed and under the gracious work of God’s Spirit, we are enabled to hear God speak afresh. I was reminded afresh of how we have been given in scripture all we need for life and godliness. Finally, I appreciated a book that sidesteps our contemporary polemics that often divide to formulate a doctrine of scripture faithful to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian

T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian (New Explorations in Theology), Joseph H. Sherrard, Foreword by Alan Torrance. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: An examination of the contribution Thomas Torrance’s theological work makes to the church’s understanding of missiology, particularly centered around his understanding of the Godhead, the person of Christ, and Christ’s threefold offices and the church’s participation in them.

Thomas Torrance lived in the shadow of his mentor Karl Barth as well as collaborators like Leslie Newbigin. Much of his theological work addressed the nature of the Triune God and the person of Christ, as well as the relationship between science and theology. Joseph H. Sherrard asserts, contrary to first appearances, Torrance’s work offers a distinctive basis for the missiology of the church.

He begins with Torrance’s doctrine of God. Torrance’s doctrine of the homoousion leads to the idea that who the Triune God is in essence is who God is to us. There is no room for dualism, sealing God off from the material world God created. He highlights the lack of separation between God and the logos in Athanasius, the Reformation doctrine that saw the gift of grace and the Giver of grace as one, and the way Barth united these two insights in his thought. God’s mission that reconciles the world and creates the world reflects what God is in essence rather than something added or set apart.

Sherrard then turns to Christology, focusing on Torrance’s understanding of the threefold office of Christ as king, priest and prophet, and how the latter two often come together in Torrance’s work. I thought Sherrard’s treatment here was rich in material for theological reflection, including a discussion of three terms for redemption that form Torrance’s thought and how these map onto Christ’s threefold office:

  • paddah, referring to a powerful, gracious work redeeming from sin’s power.
  • kipper, the wiping out of sin, effecting propitiation between God and man.
  • goel, the kinsman redeemer

In his chapter on Christology, Sherrard also elaborates the importance of the ascension as creating the space for the church as Christ’s body to participate in his ministry.

He then turns to this idea of the church as the body of Christ. Torrance saw the church as shaped by “the analogy of Christ” in four ways:

  1. As a sent church as the Son was sent
  2. As a body constrained by suffering as was Christ as the Suffering Servant
  3. In its identity with fallen humanity as Christ so identified himself
  4. In its movement toward teleological fullness as Christ is the one who fills all in all.

In the chapter, Sherrard also contrasts Torrance and Newbigin, particularly with regard to the latter’s more robust pneumatology.

Chapters four and five focus on the three offices and how the church in its mission participates in these. Chapter four focuses on the royal office. The church reflects the new creation, the new order under, and exercising royal authority, in the world. Sherrard notes that in the realm of political theology, Torrance left us with some ambiguity of how this authority is to be worked out vis a vis the state, a critical lacuna in our current moment. Chapter five then turns to the prophetic ministry and its relation to preaching and the priestly ministry and the place of sacraments in enacting that ministry. One of the criticisms Sherrard notes is that the prophetic ministry takes a back seat to the priestly in Torrance’s writing and is “underdetermined.”

,He concludes with a summary and assessment of Torrance’s contribution to missiology. First is the grounding of missiology in the Triune God rather than sociology. Second, and occupying much of this work is how mission ought be shaped by Christ’s threefold office. Third, and not something I’ve discussed thus far, is the contribution of the idea of the “deposit of faith” to mission, that is that the gospel has been entrusted to the church, to be kept by its continued propagation. Finally is the idea of how the church participates in Christ’s threefold ministry, patterning its life on his.

As noted in this conclusion, it may be that Torrance’s most distinctive contribution is to ground mission in our theology of the Triune God and this God’s seamless relation with and redemptive movement toward the world. Only our ever-deepening worship of the Triune God can sustain our missional efforts. Only his Son provides the definitive pattern for our mission. Only the gospel of a gracious God is sufficiently worthy to proclaim. Sherrard rightly notes our tendency to turn from theology to sociology, or worse pragmatic methodology. We do well to attend to the caution, and the rich contribution Torrance makes to a robust missiology.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: An Introduction to Ecclesiology

An Introduction to Ecclesiology, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: An introduction to different historical theologies of the church, contemporary theologies from throughout the world, the mission and practices of the church, and the church and other religious communities.

At one time, an introduction to ecclesiology would be complete with parts one and three of this work. It would be sufficient to discuss the historical theologies of the church from the major church traditions, and the liturgy, sacraments or ordinances of the church and the mission of the church from the West, from where these theologies arose, to the rest of the world. The changes, even from an earlier edition of this work, reflect the growth of indigenously led Christianity on every continent engaged in the theological task as well as the increasing awareness of Christianity’s intersection with, points of contact and difference with, and need to engage the other major religious communities of the world. These latter two form parts two and four of the present work.

Part one then discusses the major traditions of the church and what these have meant by confessing one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. A chapter each is devoted to six major traditions, featuring a representative theologian and a key theme. In order, they are:

  1. Eastern Orthodoxy, “The Church as an Icon of the Trinity” (John Zizioulos)
  2. Roman Catholic, “The Church as the People of God” (Hans Kung)
  3. Lutheran, “The Church Around the Word and Sacraments, Part One” (Wolfhart Pannenberg)
  4. Reformed, “The Church Around the Word and Sacraments, Part Two” (Jurgen Moltmann)
  5. Free Church, “The Church as Fellowship of Believers” (James William McClendon, Jr.)
  6. Pentecostal/Charismatic, “The Church in the Power of the Spirit” (no representative theologian)

It is surprising that no separate chapters address Anglicanism and its Wesleyan offshoots and that German theologians are representative of three of these traditions. Might not Herman Bavinck or Abraham Kuyper be more representative of the Reformed movement?

Part two turns to global theologies. Latin American theology turns to theologies of liberation and the idea of base communities. Africa has a long church history from early Christianity, to Catholic and colonial missions efforts , and the rise of the African Initiated Churches, the latter with a significant emphasis on the Spirit in the churches. The chapter on Asian ecclesiology was surprisingly short, focusing on “church-less” Christianity and Pentecostal and indigenous churches. Greater attention is given to global feminist ecclesiologies, particularly the confrontation of patriarchy, womanist black theology, and mujerista Latina theology. The North American church is treated as a mosaic of historic traditions, the Black church, immigrant communities and emergent churches.

Liturgy, order, and mission are the focus of part three. It traces a development of a multi-dimensional focus on mission shared by the whole church as a response to colonialism Subsequent chapters outline different understandings of ministry, liturgy and worship, and the sacraments or ordinances. The final chapter focuses on what the unity of the church can mean amid such diversity and various ecumenical efforts as well as the resistance to such. On this last, I would like to have seen more discussion of this in a global context as the predominance of the church has shifted from Europe and North America to the rest of the world.

The last part consider Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism with regard to community among these religions. Probably most significant for me are the connections of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as people of the book, as well as the Sangha communities of Buddhism. I felt this section somewhat cursory, addressed much better in texts on world or comparative religions. Still, to consider the counterparts to the communal nature of Christianity, and even what the individualistic West might learn from these counterparts is worthwhile.

This is an introductory text that doesn’t attempt to formulate a distinctive ecclesiology but rather survey how theologians have understood the nature of the church through history and around the world. It’s useful as part of a doctrine or theological survey course and points people to the contributions of key theologians in the field. It is written with clarity and concision, and if in some place, one may want more coverage, in no place will one want less.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.